Schokland – Netherlands’ sunken island
Have you ever heard of Schokland?
Neither have I.
Until about a year ago when I’ve made a side-trip here on the way back from Hamburg. It was not even curiosity that brought me here but a growling, painful stomach in dire need of lunch. After satisfying my hunger in the restaurant of Museum Schokland in Middlebuurt only did I allow myself to get acquainted with it’s unique surrounding – a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. Roughly translated in English, this is written on the walls of the museum:
Schokland, a small piece of land in the Zuider Zee. Of old, around 650 Schokkers live in close vicinity to each other, on three man-made raised hilllocks for habitation: the terpen. The rest of the island is too low lying and too seampy for habitation. Regularly, devastating floods occur and in the villages, many also feel victim to the fierce fires. The living conditions on the island are not very pleasant. Nevertheless the Schokkers are very attached to their swampy piece of land.
I found it quite hard to imagine that the tiny elevated land where I was standing was once a thriving village during the Middle Ages. It was even inhabited by a small community of fishermen (650 to be exact) called Schokkers who almost perished in flood and poverty together with the island.
Today there are five inhabitants officially registered as living here.
Schokland is continuously battered by the North sea and life had become so difficult for the people living there that they were almost left to the mercy of charities. This is the ready why the Dutch government decided to surrender it back to the sea. In 1859, Schokland was officially ontpolderd and it’s residents evacuated.
Around Middlebuurt, one of the three terpen (the other two are Emmeloord and Zuidert) there are several memorials reminiscent of the life gone by in Schokland – a small church, a canyon, few statues, some traditional houses and the museum that houses fossils of large sea animals that once patrolled the North Sea and the Zuider Zee. It used to be teaming with life. Unfortunately a life of constant struggle.
As I was scanning the vast greenery around Middlebuurt, the notorious Dutch rain soaking my flimsy jacket, I imagined the harsh waters crashing on the island and the people that it claimed – a fact of life that the Netherlands can never escape. Sooner or later and no matter how painful it will be, the country has to give a part of it back to the sea. And with it comes some precious cultures and even lives.
Quick guide on Schokland
– It is the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Netherlands
– Schokland is part of the municipality of Noordoostpolder in the province of Flevoland.
– There is no public transportation going to Schokland. Bus bus 135 and 325 from Lelystad and Groningen will take you to Emmeloord and from then on, it’s only walking trails.
– The most convenient way to get to Schokland is by car, motorbike or boat. The best way to go around is by bike and on foot.
– The official website of Schokland, www.schokland.nl provides very interesting and comprehensive account of the island’s history. And it’s available in English.
– When you visit, don’t miss going to the lighthouse in South Point.